During the second day of a visit to Kyiv, on Wednesday, May 15, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the release of a $2 billion in military aid for Ukraine, aimed at bolstering Ukrainian forces against Russian attacks along the front lines.

This aid is part of a larger $61 billion package that Washington approved after months of congressional delays.

During a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken said that the aid is intended “to provide weapons today” and to invest in Ukrainian infrastructure, enabling Ukraine to procure military equipment from other countries.

Kuleba highlighted Ukraine's urgent need for seven more air defense systems, particularly for the northeastern region of Kharkiv, which recently came under Russian attack. He also stressed the necessity for faster delivery of promised weapons from allied nations.

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Addressing the contentious issue of strikes on Russian territory, Blinken said: “We have not encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine, but ultimately Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war.” 

On Tuesday, May 14, the US’s top diplomat gave a speech at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

In it he praised Ukrainians for their courage and fierce determination to fight back against a larger foe, characterizing Ukraine’s desire to be free as a “strategic advantage” that, with the West’s help, will allow Ukraine not only to withstand Russia’s onslaught, but to prevail.

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In regards to military support he said the US and Ukraine’s “joint task is to secure Ukraine’s sustained and permanent strategic advantage.”

He added that Ukraine must be able to deter and defend against future attacks.

“As President Biden said, we want Ukraine to win – and we’re committed to helping you do it,” Blinken said, in an apparent retort to Biden critics who complain that the US president is not committed to Ukraine’s victory, but merely its survival.

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Blinken also praised Ukraine’s economic progress, notwithstanding the struggle to keep businesses going during wartime.

“Nine of ten American businesses in Ukraine are running at the same or higher capacity than they were before Putin’s full invasion,” he said.

The Secretary of State also reiterated the US government’s intention to have Russia pay for the war damage it caused by seizing assets frozen in the US.

“What Putin destroyed, Russia should – and must – pay to rebuild. It’s what international law demands; it’s what the Ukrainian people deserve.

“Our Congress has given us the power to seize Russian assets in the United States. We intend to use it. We’re working with our G7 partners to see that Russia’s immobilized sovereign assets are used to remedy the damage that Putin continues to cause.”

Ukraine still needs to combat corruption

Yet for all the praise, Blinken diplomatically reproached what many observers have complained was Kyiv’s lax approach to combatting corruption.

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“Ask any company in the United States, in Europe, in Asia what they are looking for when considering doing business in Ukraine,” Blinken said. “You’ll hear pretty much the same thing from all of them: a strong and predictable regulatory environment; open and fair competition; transparency; the rule of law; effective anti-corruption measures.”

The top diplomat urged Ukraine to fight corruption as it was fighting militarily: “Winning on the battlefield will prevent Ukraine from becoming part of Russia. Winning the war against corruption will keep Ukraine from becoming like Russia.”

Blinken accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of weaponizing corruption in Ukraine: “[Putin] knows how powerful corruption can be in sowing division and distrust, undermining faith in government and its institutions. After all, he’s been fine-tuning these tactics at home for nearly 25 years.”

Blinken even spelled out specific institutions that need to be strengthened: “Ukraine’s defenses against corruption… are: an independent judiciary; a free press; a vibrant, inclusive civil society; free and fair elections; independent, empowered anti-corruption investigators, prosecutors, and judges.”

In the month before Blinken’s visit, the Ukrainian government made several arrests and initiated investigations related to corruption.

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The most recent high-profile indictment came when Agrarian Minister Mykola Solskyi was charged with illegally acquiring state-owned land.

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